3 Simple Tips To Polish And Restore Older Car Paint

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When asked How to Polish Old Car Paint many people draw air in through their teeth and shake their head!

"There's no hope they say"

"Maybe a chance if its not red or dark blue, if it is your done for!"

If your coming up against those type of replies there is hope, believe me. Its not as bad as it sounds. Well that is as long as its not as bad as the one in the picture above! 

Now that is beyond repair!

Damage of that magnitude would require a complete repaint, there is no paint restoration possible there. Its a back to metal, prime and respray job!

But in many cases if you follow my 3 simple steps on how to polish old car paint then you will soon have your car back to its original showroom shine!

Even if it is red, dark blue or indeed purple with yellow spots.

Older car paint brought back to full shine by knowing how to polish old car paint


Tip 1. how to polish old car paint by washing it well.

Wash the car well to start. Even though you may think this wont make a difference with the paint being dull it is important to get all the grit and grime off the surface before you start to even think about polishing.

Each particle that remains on the surface has grit paper potential to create more scratches and swirls as you try to polish the already faded paint. You will basically be fighting a losing battle if that car isn't totally clean before you start.

Hands Free Grime Removal

Whilst it is near impossible to remove all grit and grime without touching the car you must try to eliminate human hand pressure until ALL the major deposits are removed. This again reduces the risks of further scratches.

To this follow these steps:

  1. Pressure wash the car from top to bottom (use a hose)
  2. Attach a snow foam lance to the pressure washer (Or use a pump spray bottle)
  3. Add snow foam solution and dilute with the required amount of water.
  4. Cover the car in a thick layer of snow foam
  5. Allow 10-15 minutes of "Dwell Time" to let the snow foam remove much of the dirt.
  6. Hose off the car from top to bottom
Two Bucket Method

Now we can chance using some human intervention to give the final clean. For this stage you will need.

  • 2 buckets with grit guards
  • 1 microfiber wash mitt
  • Car wash shampoo
Car wash mitt in a bucket of car wash shampoo ready to wash a red car

The two bucket method is again aimed at minimising scratches. By using two buckets we can wash with one and rinse in the other. That way all the dirt attache to the wash mitt is rinsed off in the other bucket.

Bucket one should contain water mixed with a good car wash shampoo. Bucket two should be just clear water to rinse the mitt before going back into bucket one to soak and wash the next section of the car.

Each time the mitt goes into the rinse bucket rub it over the grit guard which should be installed at the bottom of both buckets. This will loosen the grit from the mitt and allow it to fall to bottom of bucket (below the grit guard), then it will not be picked up again.

Once the whole car has been washed with the mitt then a simple hose off with clean water will leave the surface more than ready for our second tip on how to polish old car paint.



2. Cut back to the shine

Next step is to cut back a layer of clear coat to reveal the original paint colour.

When a car is painted in the factory it has a few layers of clear coat applied on top of the layers of paint. This is to give some protection from the elements such as UV rays

However if the car is always stored outside the suns rays burn into the clear coat weakening its defences. More damage is caused from the roadside debris if the car is in daily use and all this contributes to a very dulled clear coat that prevents the paint real colour from showing through.

Clear coat damage

Our aim in this stage is to remove the damaged layer of clear coat to reveal that original factory shine

A red car with severely damaged clear coat to show what is looks like when polishing old car paint

If the clear coat is damaged as much as the door in this picture then it could be necessary to have the panel repainted. If however it is like the rear panel by the gas filler cap then this stage or removing a layer of clear coat with cutting compound back will do the trick.

Whats is Cutting Compound?

To safely remove the layer we need to use a paste polish that has abrasive particles suspended within it, known as "Cutting Compound". As this is applied the abrasive particles wear away the damaged layer.

Here are some examples of Cutting Compounds we recommend:



Meguiars Mirror Glaze Pro Speed Compound

3M Super Duty Compound

An example of a good cutting compund
Example of a good Cutting Compound
Cutting and Rubbing, the same but different

Note that the one on the left is a Cutting Compound whilst the one on the right is labelled as a Rubbing Compound. Both do the same thing as in removing a damaged layer of clear coat, but the cutting compound is the most aggressive of the two.

The difference lies in the abrasive particles. Finer grit particles are used in Rubbing Compounds whereas the Cutting Compound has larger and possibly harder particles.

Both will do the same job and in some cases it can be beneficial to initially use as a cutting compound and then follow up with a rubbing compound to fine the surface

DAT and SMAT technology

Some of theses products implement what is known as "DAT Technology" or "SMAT Technology"

DAT stands for Diminishing Abrasive Technology
SMAT stands for Super Micro Abrasives Technology

When using a DAT product you must work the compound down until the abrasive is fully broken down.

If this is not achieved and the abrasives remain then you can cause more damage than you are curing as when you wipe off the compound more scratches and swirls will be created. 

Almost all the Meguiars range are SMAT products as they feel this is easier for the consumer to use. SMAT's have super micor abrasives that do not require a lot of wearing down. On the other hand many professional detailer's prefer DAT compounds as they say you can tell better when the product is ready to be wiped off. 

Hood being polished to show how much work is need on How To Polish Old Car PAint

Once the clear coat has been cut back to a fresh layer then it is time to finish this stage off with a polish of the finest grade, often called a "Finishing Polish" for this very reason.

This will effortlessly smooth over the harsh cutting compound effect and leave the best shine. This is the stage that will give you the THE SHINE! So it is important to use a good finishing polish and take you time to ensure the best finish possible.

Here are some examples of Finishing Polish:

Meguiars Mirror Glaze Finishing Polish

Sonax Perfect Finish

Example of finishing polish
Example of Sonax finishing polish

Once this most important stage is completed you are then ready to seal and protect the shine. This is Tip number three and is covered in the next section.

3. Seal in the Shine and Protect the paint

With your old car paint shining like new it is important to safeguard the work you have done.

This is done by coating the whole car in cocoon of good quality car wax.

Many people think waxing is what gives the car a shine, but it is the "Polishing" stage that creates the shine the waxing just seals it in and protects it. This helps the car stay shining longer saving you time and money.

Wax being applied to old car paint


To apply the wax coat use the same method as when you polished the car. Use either a DA polisher or apply by hand using an applicator pad as pictured above and buff off with microfiber cloth.

What is Carnauba Wax?

The wax most suitable for old car paint would a be a good quality Carnauba based wax. Carnauba is the purest form of natural wax and its come from Copernicia Prunifera palm trees in Northern Brazil.  It is also called Brazil or Palm wax.The wax is excreted through the leaves to provide a protective layer against the suns harmful UV rays. 

When applied to your cars bodywork it forms a hard shell that protects from the very things that causes your old car paint to fade. Things like the suns UV Rays, road side debris and the hundreds of Summer bugs!

Here are some examples of good Carnauba waxes:

P21S Carnauba Wax

Gold Class Carnauba Plus from Meguiars

A Carnuaba wax suitable for old car paint
Wax for old car paint


How to Polish Old Car Paint with Carnauba Wax


Apply the wax to a one square foot area of the car. Moving around the panel until it is totally coated.

If doing it by hand take the, usually supplied foam applicator, and place it on top of the wax in the container.

Car Waxing top tip
Next gently rotate the container on way, lets say clockwise, and the applicator pad anticlockwise. The reason for this is by turning the applicator pad on the wax surface friction is produced. This slightly melts the surface of the wax and allows a better application.

Use small circular movements to ensure a good covering.

Allow time for the wax to dry to a haze and the polish off with a good quality microfiber cloth

This will produce the ultimate shine and give your old car paint that showroom look once more..


Conclusion of how to wax old car paint

So now you know the three best tips to follow to restore your old car paint do not lose heart when you see any dull neglected old paint.

Knowing it is simply the clear coat that sits above the paint that is sto shine can give your the confidence to use an aggressive polish. 

Cutting back that damaged layer to reveal the original color is all that is needed to restore any older car. The sun, harsh weather and often washing cars incorrectly can cause dull paintwork but it is mainly just the layers above the paint that need removing.

Wash the car correctly to start and you will not add any further damage. We also thought to mention washing in the post so that you know the correct method. Otherwise every wash after could lead to more damage and within a year you could be back to damaged old paint.

Old car paint shining like new

Finally, restoring old car paint back to its former glory and be a very stimulating, relaxing and satisfying days work.

Simply working through the three stages mentioned above will transform any old car paint and give years of deep shine. And just knowing how to polish old car paint can give your such an advantage when looking for bargain cars!